Is it motivation or inspiration you need?

I was debating the difference between these two energy-giving qualities with a client this morning.

Motivation“, he said, “is the energy you need to do something you don’t want to do”.

How interesting. This really made me think, because I do a lot of work in this area, using a blend of training and one-to-one coaching. There always seems to be a question, where the subject is not quite getting the outcomes they or their sponsors seek, of whether the individual “can’t” or “won’t“. The first is about capability, the second about motivation.

Inspiration, on the other hand, literally means “to breath life into“. So, are the two words synonymous when it comes to human behaviour, particularly in a business context?

Well, it seems to me that the key to getting anyone to do anything is to help them understand their WIIFM (what’s in it for me). In other words, it’s all about the “why?” but, critically, their why not yours.

The technique of influencing behaviour would seem to involve persuading your subject through an articulation of why they would benefit from implementing your idea. Without that, who would have the motivation, inspiration or energy to move ahead? It’s easy to see why so many of a leader’s ideas can come to nothing if they are relying upon just their authority in seeking to motivate a member of the team.

On the other hand, if you can overcome this challenge of persuasion, the subject should have all the motivation and inspiration they need. Then the leader needs to simply get out of their way, becoming the enabler, rather than the driver.

The same also applies to parenting of course!

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Is there any hope at all?

I have just engaged a law firm to process a fairly straight forward transaction. This is my story of how, in my humble opinion, they got it spectacularly wrong from a client’s perspective from start to finish. They would probably feel it was just another matter moving through the office and won’t be aware, yet at least, of the effect they will have had on a potentially loyal client.

My motive is to shine a light on how easy it is to mistreat a client and to share with you how it feels from a client’s perspective. I also want to suggest what that may mean for the long-term survival of firms who fail to address an obvious disregard to basic service standards.

In fact, the firm I used were the second firm I selected – the first being so slow to respond that I gave up. That’s another story!

During the course of the transaction, the following represents a brief summary of the service I received:

  • The senior lawyer who was allocated to my case promised me on 4 occasions: “…I should be back to you today but, if not, I will definitely do so by tomorrow”. They failed on 4 occasions (out of 4). Note that it was their self-imposed deadline and I had no say as to when that would be. Don’t get me wrong, I can see they were well-intentioned, but completely hopeless at fulfilling their own set deadline on every single occasion. A classic case of over-promising and under-delivering.
  • We agreed a fee at the outset. In fact, that’s the only way I would engage a solicitor. They quoted a fee, which I accepted without challenge. When I went to their office to deliver a document, they asked my to bring my cheque book to pay the fee and they would give me the fee note. This I did, in the agreed sum, which they again confirmed was the right amount. (Incidentally, the fee note wasn’t ready for me at that time, even though it was promised.) However, when I received the final document in the post, I also received the invoice for an amount nearly £100 more, because of a land registry disbursement, asking me to send another cheque for the extra. This made me angry, especially as I had agreed the fee and the 6 parties to the transaction had all approved it. Now I have to go back to each to ask for an additional sum. As customers, we would all have expected the lawyer to have included this in their quote at the outset (assuming they must have been aware of it) or settled it themselves if they weren’t. If the latter was the case, that would be very worrying indeed.
  • The document they produced for signature, which was broadly a standard precedent, contained no less than 6 different typographical errors. Essentially, the only things they had to add to it were names and addresses, which I sent to them accurately by email. Quite apart from the inconvenience of having to initial and witness each amendment, the error rate was simply staggering and rather calls into question the quality of the legal work.

The irony is that the firm I used prides itself in differentiating by the level of service it offers. They certainly don’t sell on price, with the non-partner fee earner that did my work charging out at £230 plus VAT per hour. They probably spend a fortune marketing the firm, making their offices look impressive, building a classy website, telling the world how wonderful they are and why clients should come to them rather than the firm down the road. In fact, I bet the board are either blissfully unaware that such appalling service is being given or fail to understand that their clients will be so incensed by how they’re being treated.

This morning, I was chatting to the managing partner of another firm about this and he suggested that such treatment was probably endemic in the profession. Something tells me that he may be right.

As a client, I have to say they broke my trust on about 11 occasions. That’s quite an achievement. I am sure the natural response of any client receiving such treatment would be to: 

  1. never use their services again,
  2. go to another firm at the drop of a hat,
  3. never recommend their friends to the firm and
  4. tell whoever will listen about their experience, ad nauseam.

The firm is almost certainly puzzled as to why they are not making as much money as they used to before 2007. My view is that can probably be attributed more to their hubris and complacency towards the loyalty of clients than to the commoditisation of legal services. Further and more importantly, I fail to see how, in the turbulent times in which professional firms find themselves, a firm offering such poor attention to the basics can survive. Any new entrant – and there are many in the world of legal services – should find it relatively easy to hoover up market share from what must be a substantial number of firms who are ignoring the importance of very basic client care standards that pretty much every other industry now takes for granted.

My story is simply a heart-felt reflection of how I feel I was treated as a client. Using the experience and knowledge I have gained from my work of what makes businesses in all sectors thrive, I have then considered the potential implications for the legal profession as a whole.

Am I wrong? Perhaps clients will happily accept poor or even mediocre service into perpetuity. What do you think?

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Never make a recruitment error

I used to believe that recruiting people was a bit of a lottery. “You can only expect to get it right 50% of the time” was my belief. So you can imagine how much rigour I put into the recruitment process…and what my outcomes were as a result! I proved myself right.

There is a more helpful way to think which has dramatically improved the success rate for my clients. I’m now confident that it is is more than 90% probable to recruit the right person through careful planning of the process.

First of all, stop prioritising skills in your selection – go for testing attitude. It’s not really about whether the candidate can do the job, but whether they will. Those with the right attitude can be taught skills. In fact, they’ll probably learn most of what they need themselves!

It is harder to test attitude, that’s why most recruiters give up trying. Just this week, for example, I was discussing with a client how they could test their candidates for “positive thinking”. We thought that setting the candidates an almost impossible task was likely to give insight into their positivity, simply from their response.

I recently helped a client recruit a CFO – a high level job that was critical to get right. We carefully designed a carousel of interviews and tests over a two day period, in order to test all the desired attitudes and skills we needed. This included asking the candidates to write a finance report for the board meeting using the data supplied and then present it to us the following day in written and verbal form. You just can’t fake that and it was quickly obvious who was up to it and who wasn’t.

So, the key is to decide what attributes and attitudes your candidate should have and work out a way to test whether they can deliver. Interview questions may be one way, but a series of tests is more likely to give you the certainty you need.

I now put an appropriate amount of rigour into each recruitee, even quite junior personnel. The cost of investing time and effort into getting it right far outweighs the cost of getting it wrong.

Can they write a marketing plan? Ask them to do so as part of the interview and you’ll find out.


Proactivity creates headwind for the time-based professional

I rarely get anything but nods when I suggest it would be a good thing for a senior professional to be proactive towards their client. Trouble is, whilst it’s hard to argue the logic, it simply isn’t going to happen in most cases.

Let’s look to the Tour de France for an analogy. A typical member of a tour cycling team will do anything to stay in the peloton. Those crazy people who jump off the front are usually just providing added PR for the team jersey for as long as they can, until they inevitably get caught by the chasing peloton. Occasionally, they will manage to survive the break and win a stage. More PR, highly exciting, but it’s quite rare and not for the average Joe, because it’s tantamount to race suicide, quite apart from the pain that the extra effort causes. There’s simply too much energy required to combat the added headwind that comes from going it alone and daring to get ahead of everyone else.

Back to the world of professional firms then. A typical accountant or lawyer primarily measures their success by how many hours they charge their clients. Note: I didn’t say how much value they give to their clients – that’s a different thing entirely.

They win the financial race by staying close to the safety of the in-tray, avoiding ventures away from chargeable work. This usually satisfies their number one KPI. A good day is one where the professional charges the client between 5 and 6 hours, irrespective of what they’ve actually achieved in that time. If that’s so, why on earth would they spend two hours going to see one of their valuable clients unless they can charge the time? The answers are obvious in theory – retain the clients for life, identify client needs, generate referrals and even find more work, but these are almost always secondary KPI’s to the call of the chargeable hour. Secondary KPI’s are those we focus on when and only when the primary KPI has been satisfied.

Because commoditisation is making it harder and harder to bill clients for standard, desk-based work these days, the irony is that many professionals are having to work for longer at their desks in order to hit their primary targets, so they never quite get around to doing all the things they say they will (particularly in their marketing collateral), believe in and genuinely intend to do.

There are exceptions to the rule of course, as with anything. However, a large majority of senior professionals focus on taking and delivering orders rather than thinking how they can add value to their clients.

It’s sad that nothing much has changed since I left the profession 13 years ago. What’s more, it won’t radically change until the timesheet is jettisoned to the vaults of a museum and the primary measure becomes value-based rather than time-based.

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Are you measuring the right leadership KPI’s?

Most of my clients are chief executives, managing directors or senior managers. Without exception, as far as I can tell, they are measured on the standard business outcomes linked to growth, market share and profit.

These are often described as “Lag” indicators, which tell us whether or not a particular outcome has been attained and they’re important to ensure our leader is delivering results. Nothing wrong with that.

Lag indicators, on their own, are however rarely enough to measure all of the right things. Adding some “Lead” indicators will provide early signs of whether the outcomes will be achieved. These link to activities rather than outcomes – numbers of 121 meetings held with heads of department, projects initiated, networking events attended and so on. It’s worth checking if you have the right blend of both lead and lag.

Secondly, I advocate measuring the leader on outcomes that aren’t directly linked to financial results. These are slightly harder to measure, but well designed surveys and similar methods will usually do the trick. Here are some of the more important examples:

  • Employee delight/excitement. Mere “satisfaction” is not enough to recruit and retain the best people
  • Customer delight. Again, referrals are more likely to materialise if customers have an experience that exceeds their expectations
  • Increasing the average quality of employees. This can be done several ways:
  1. Retention of the best people
  2. Robust recruitment procedures to a) attract and b) select the best people
  3. Letting some of the negative people go (a clearly implemented strategy should deliver this)
  4. Developing existing personnel (moving from modular training to teaching people critical thinking and problem-solving skills, so they can learn for themselves)
  • Continuous improvement of processes, possibly through rolling project teams
  • Value to the community
  • Innovation of new products and ideas

There is much more to a business than simply making acceptable financial returns. Focusing on the real reasons why an organisation exists, linked to employees, customers and the wider community, will build a far stronger and sustainable organisation. Unfortunately, whilst few would probably disagree with the sentiment, rarely do I see the key metrics built into a leader’s performance management process.

I should say that a likely by-product of getting these drivers right will be strong financial performance in the form of profit, growth and balance sheet value.

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Our beloved NHS

This’ll get you going…

Went to the doctor this morning. First time for quite a while. Took about 9 days to get an appointment, but that’s an issue for another day. The outcome of my visit has got me thinking about efficiency, customer care and all the other issues I deal with every day with my clients in a commercial environment.

Turns out that “I’m getting old and my knee’s wearing out”. OK, I think I expected that – I intuitively knew the diagnosis and likely prognosis, but might have wished for a rather better bedside manner – perhaps: “you must have been very sporty during your life Mr Hopwood…” or similar.

Apart from a referral for an X-ray, the doctor suggested physiotherapy might be useful. That made sense. “…problem is” he said, “you have to call this number – they’ll assess you on the phone (which I don’t agree with) and they’ll probably suggest some exercises. If they don’t see you (likely), they are unlikely to give you the ideal exercises to be honest”…now I’m dumbstruck.

When I went for the Xray, I used my initiative (mistake) and walked into the reception at the adjacent physiotherapy department to see if they might do a quick assessment – well, you can guess the response…

Please just give me the treatment I need. How hard is that?

How on earth did the NHS get into this state? I thought the NHS was all about “free medical care for everyone at the point of delivery”. It seems not. Well, not for me anyway.

Now, I’m not looking for sympathy, but I can confidently say that I’ve paid considerably more that my fair share of tax/NI over the years by working my n***s of to build a future for my family. We chose to educate our kids privately (and before you jump down my throat – not out of principle, but for a number of practical reasons) which has not only taken pressure off the state system, but has happily added much pure income to the coffers of our central and local government departments. Naively, when I very occasionally seek some treatment on the NHS, I would expect it to be delivered with a speedy and caring response.

How did we let this happen? Who is clogging up the physiotherapy department diary? Please don’t tell me it’s the people who “need” it but don’t merit it. We should not be discriminating in who gets care in the NHS.

I’m not saying that my need is huge, but it must be a symptom of a far deeper malaise.

None of the regular reports on the news about failures in care in various hospitals ever surprises me. That’s sad. Every year, the contributions to the NHS are massively enhanced because it’s such a political hot potato, but the level of care seems to be depreciating faster that we can conceive.

I have blogged about reducing waste before and maybe it really is about time someone looked closely at the NHS and gave it a radical overhaul. Taking out waste, which I guarantee will amount to at least 30% of total budget – inefficient processes, unnecessary effort and incapable people. I suggest the saving be redeployed to the point of delivery focusing, above all, on patient care.

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Decisions decisions decisions

Any business owner will know that running a business is essentially a process of making one decision after another. He or she who makes the right decisions wins – he or she who makes the wrong ones loses.

The problem is, most decisions are extremely close calls and, in the end, every one is a guess. That’s why we should be careful about over-confidence in any particular decision. Likewise, I would suggest there’s little point in beating yourself up if you make the wrong guess.

You can’t always make the right decision, but you can always make a good decision. That involves a process of triangulation between three things – rational analysis, intuition and experience. Using all three will help corroborate and substantiate a particular choice.

We usually recommend using a weighted decision matrix to unpack a complex decision. It triangulates well, even though it looks on first sight like a simple way of rationalising the options. The intuitive moment is when you look at what each option scores and notice how that makes you feel.

One final point relating to timing. Every decision has its day – for some, it’s definitely today. For others, it’s tomorrow. Up to the point of commitment, every extra piece of information is useful in forming a view. So, don’t become too fretful over an imminent choice you have to make if you don’t need to commit just yet. Use the time between now and then to open up your antennae and take in as much data about the issue as you can. Good luck!

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If you can’t draw it…

As a strategist, I am often working with my clients on their business vision. It maybe 1 year hence or even 10-20 years, depending on the needs the organisation and the perceived rate of commoditisation of its products or services.

So, I usually start by asking the directors to draw the business now and then at a chosen point in the future. This request is usually met with a challenge or two: “What do you mean?”, “I can’t draw”, “Can’t I just write a paragraph explaining it to you?” and so on.

My case for insisting upon the exercise is this – if you can’t draw it, you can’t see it. If you can’t see it, it’s not clear enough in your mind. If it’s not clear enough in your mind, then you probably won’t get it.

The vision is a picture, by definition – not a set of words. A vision for a business needs to be a very clear view of the organisation at a particular point in the future. You should be able to close your eyes and describe that picture to me. How big is the organisation? Who are it’s customers? What are you selling to them? How are you interacting with them? What are the key processes in your production cycle? How are your people behaving? Where are they working? How are you spending your own time?

Until we can get a picture, we don’t move on, because the strategy will depend upon exactly where we’re headed. The same applies to a personal strategy. What’s your vision? Can you draw it? If you can’t draw it…

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Training is a waste of money

Ah yes, I remember the old days. A list of available training courses circulated for everyone to mark with our preferences. Interesting sounding courses involving a number of days spent far up a distant motorway in an expensive hotel, with an evening of late drinking in between the two days and lots of nice food. Happy days indeed!

How it’s changed. Well, not for everyone it seems.

OK, the title of this blog is somewhat provocative. It’s meant to be. Many a true word is spoken in jest though and, I would wager, quite a common outcome for training that isn’t properly structured.

All too often, training isn’t needs-driven, by which I mean determined from performance gaps between where a person is now and the skill level they need to perform their role at the expected level. Furthermore, rarely are the outcomes from training captured in performance enhancement, because there’s usually no proper determination of objectives, follow up of action plans or evaluation of the ROI from the training intervention.

So, for goodness sake, if you’re going to spend big bucks on training, make sure it is:

  • Needs driven
  • Targeted to achieve certain measurable objectives and
  • Followed up to ensure knowledge capture and deployment into the business.

Even better, consider whether redeploying some of the training budget into coaching might give a far better bang for your buck. Less leveraged, but totally customised to the individual. Coaching will change behaviours and the right behaviours are likely to encourage the individual to do their own training.

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Why (on earth) would you choose to be a consultant?

Quite a lot has changed in the world of consulting since I started 17 years ago. For a start, the market has matured immensely. The sale used to be an educational one, explaining exactly what it was that a consultant did, hoping the prospect would take a chance on buying something they’d never experienced before. Now, the SME sector has become much more used to hiring consultants, coaches, mentors, facilitators, trainers and other similar titles for suppliers in the same broad space. Most have used one and/or are currently doing so.

So why would anyone want to move into what is now an extremely crowded market?

It’s certainly not easy to carve a niche from a standing start. Selling fresh air is always tricky, but now the buyer is pretty clear what they are looking for. If you’ve achieved mastery in your particular field, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be you. Beware though, there are many excellent, experienced consultants with an established presence and healthy following. Don’t think that you can attend a course for a few days, buy a toolkit and expect to dominate your chosen target market without a significant lead time.

Differentiating your offer will be critical. Being just one more generalist consultant in such a congested space will make you invisible to any discerning purchaser. Specialising in a particular industry sector, specific type of service or innovative form of delivery will be a key success factor.

However, it is most definitely worth the effort in considering consulting as your next venture and carefully compiling a cunning market entry strategy. The privilege of working closely, indeed quite intimately with clients at times, sharing the complexity of their journey, adding value to that journey and therefore sharing in the successes and occasional failures of a range of clients over a period of time has to be the most rewarding occupation.

It’s the best job in the world – not the best paid necessarily, but certainly the most fulfilling.

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